December 9, 2009

Copenhagen: The Perfect, the Good, and the Ugly

Yesterday, I thought Copenhagen was going to be all about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. James Rachels, whom I admire enormously, had written a piece in the NYTimes arguing against cap and trade, a piece called “Cap and Fade.” I think cap and trade is a really clever idea that places real caps on carbon emissions (the enemy), while fitting into the current free market paradigm. And Paul Krugman agrees with me (or I agree with him, I always forget). And I really think it could work. Though there are many who disagree.

Hansen disagrees. He argues for a much more robust and populist scenario: place a gradually rising fee on all carbon that we take out of the ground, then distribute the proceeds of that tax as a “dividend” to everyone. It’s basically a nice save the planet, steal from the rich, given to the poor scenario. I love it but think it’s a pipe dream. So I argue back and forth with myself: this scenarios is better, but that one is possible…

Then, today, I confront: this, this, this, this, and this. And I wake up from my daydream into the reality of politics. We’re talking LOTS of money and power and oil and lives (probably in that order) that could be endangered based on the outcome of this deal. And suddenly I realize that our enemy is not the perfect, but the ugly. We can only hope that there will be something coming out of Copenhagen that moves us in the right direction, something binding, and something that provides protections for the least advantaged among us…

But who knows.

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